Archive for February, 2007

Nougat Science

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
I’ve been battling a bit with nougat this week, and this post is going to go into quite a few corners of confectionery esoterica — into the areas of boiling sugar and using glucose. I can only imagine that Alton Brown would be riveted…

Nougats such as Montelimar and torrone are traditionally honey-flavored confections made by whipping boiled sugar/honey/glucose/corn syrup-based syrup into egg whites. Nuts and dried fruit are often mixed in for flavoring and texture. (Side note: whipping sugar syrup into egg whites is also a technique used to make Italian buttercream frostings and some kinds of marshmallows; the differences lie in the temperature that the syrup is boiled to, the ratio of sugar syrup to egg whites, and what else is added– lots of butter for the frosting and corn syrup or glucose/gelatin/vanilla extract for marshmallows).

Anyone who’s eaten a Snickers, Three Musketeers, or Milky Way knows that those nougats have nothing to do with honey or chopped fruit. And I’m okay with that… b/c I’ve been aiming for a fruit puree-based nougat and a mint nougat. I want my nougat to be flavorful and fluffy without being too chewy, and I’ve had these criteria in mind:

  • I want my nougat to be free of high fructose corn syrup, so I’m avoiding Karo corn syrup. Glucose is my substitute of choice b/c it doesn’t taste too sweet, it doesn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, it doesn’t attract too much moisture, it inhibits crystallization like other liquid sugars, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Glucose has an industrial-sounding name, but it’s just a molecular form of sugar that can be derived from corn, wheat, and other substances; one tub of glucose that I had listed one ingredient: corn syrup. Granulated sugar is sucrose, which is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose. So while Karo goes the (high) fructose way, I go the glucose way. For some reason that I wonder about, glucose is not commonly found in stores. If you’ve never used it, know that it’s extremely thick and sticky — much more so than honey or corn syrup. Consider that this means that it contains less moisture than honey or corn syrup.
  • I want it to taste like fruit or mint, not like sugar or honey.
  • I want the flavors to taste fresh, so I don’t want to use fruit or mint flavor extracts. The mint nougat should contain some form of mint leaf. The fruit nougat should be made from fruit, either juice or peel.

And you know what? I haven’t found a single recipe online or in cookbooks that has met my criteria. That’s fine, since, of course, I am developing my own recipes, but I have to start somewhere, so I’ve been looking to adapt recipes. Usually, what I have to do is figure out (1) a way to incorporate fruit liquid (b/c fruit juice or puree is not as concentrated as extracts, although they can be reduced to produce more flavor per amount of liquid), (2) how to substitute glucose for corn syrup and (3) what temperature to boil my sugars to.

Boiling sugar. This is where it gets fascinating… and tricky. If you put a layer of sugar on the bottom of a pot and put it over heat, it’ll melt and caramelize quite rapidly; sugar reaches the caramel stage btw 320F-350F. It will color and when cooled, will be brittle and have a caramel flavor. This is the dry method of caramelization, which is something like gunning your car straight from 0-60mph in 6 seconds flat.

But, if you add water to the sugar and put it over heat, you can track the sugar gradually going through all of its stages, such as thread, soft ball, hard crack, etc.

What I find so interesting is that the temperature of the sugar will not increase until its water content decreases. So, when you use this wet method, it’ll usually heat up to a little under 220F and hang out there for a while until enough water has boiled out of it for it increase, which it will do pretty rapidly. According to Jean-Pierre Wybauw’s book Fine Chocolates, Great Experiences, a sugar syrup at 219.2F has a water content of 35%. At 221F, it has a water content of 30.6%. In the difference of only 1.8F, it has 4.4% less water! When it has reached the thread stage (which begins at 230F), it has 19.1% water. And so on, it progresses. Wybauw’s chart goes to 266F (the end of Hard Ball), at which point the syrup solution has only 4.9% water. When it finally caramelizes, the water is boiled off… so it can wind up just like the dry method.

So, knowing the % of water supports what the names of the sugar stages and temperatures intuitively tell you — as they get higher, they have less water to lend flexibility… hence, they get harder and more brittle. You’ll notice that the syrup thickens as the temperature increases by the way the bubbles act, but it has to cool for you to see how hard it will be (you can either pour it out and wait or drop a little in cold water for a quick test).

But… if only it were that simple… if only mastering this concept would allow you to master nougat-making. I consider there to be at least four factors that further complicate all this in regards to nougat:

  • the type of sugar that you use – do sugars other than granulated sugar (such as corn syrup and glucose) have the same properties at the same temperatures? Almost all candy recipes contain liquid sugars in addition to granulated. A corollary issue — what proportion of each sugar should you use? Most nougat recipes are a combination of glucose/corn syrup/honey and sugar. And nougat recipes call for boiling to be anywhere from 252-310F.
  • what you add to the sugar solution – How much egg whites to use? How much liquid can you use without it ending up all oozy, no matter what you boiled the sugar syrup to (even caramelized sugar–with its very small water %–can be liquefied again by adding enough water/cream/liquid)? How will acidic ingredients affect it?
  • the effects of room temperature and humidity – or as I’ll call it, the Cosmos Laughing at You Factor, b/c it seems like even temp/humidity controlled areas can be affected by the rain outside.
  • the effects of time on texture – sugar can have a way of sort of re-crystallizing over time, which can be great if you can predict it for a desired texture. Whether or not it is enrobed (that is, sealed off from air) is also a factor in this. Some nougats are supposed to be left out overnight, and some are supposed to be enrobed right away. As I read in Emperors of Chocolate, the Milky Way nougat takes two weeks to reach its preferred texture — under what conditions is it left for two weeks, and why does their formula take two weeks for the texture to come about?

So, I looked around in books and online and formulated a sugar syrup that was about 1 parts granulated sugar to 2 parts glucose, and enough water to moisten it; I wanted it to be chewy and moist, without much recrystallization. I boiled it to 252F, and was able to make a nougat out of it that was nice — soft and melting… perhaps a little bit too much so.

For subsequent trials, I decided to boil it higher, to 275.

And this is where it all fell apart.

The syrup wouldn’t incorporate into the beaten egg whites. It hardened into twigs of all size within the beaten egg whites and stuck to the whisk in a gelatinous, quickly-hardening clump. I thought it was a fluke — I’d never had this happen before with any of my “sugar-syrup-into-egg-whites” applications. Maybe the egg whites were too cold (which was unlikely, since they’d experienced all the friction/heat that it takes to whip them to medium peak)… Maybe I’d poured the syrup too much onto the whisk and it had cooled down… Maybe the syrup was too hot and should stop bubbling completely before being added to the egg whites… Maybe the syrup had cooled too much…

I tried again. The same thing happened. Sugar twigs in whipped egg whites. Some of the syrup had hardened onto the side of the bowl, before it had even reached the egg white.

So, I went back to the nougat recipes and looked again at their formulations. The one I’d primarily based it on had used a lot of corn syrup and a little bit of sugar. Other recipes, that used glucose to begin with, used almost equal amounts of glucose and granulated sugar.

And I believe that to be the difference. Glucose boils up differently than sucrose and corn syrup; it is after all, much thicker at room temp to begin with. The % of moisture in the Wybauw chart only applies to granulated sugar. In this case, I guess that the large amount of granulated sugar in relation to the glucose thins it out to a degree — a degree that the thinner corn syrup does not need. I had decreased the quantity of glucose from the original amount of corn syrup called for, in an attempt to compensate for the denser-seeming glucose, but that hadn’t been enough.

I now also wonder, though, how the percentage of liquid sugar in a sugar syrup affects the stage that the sugar is at at a given temperature. For instance, at 244 (“firm ball”), how will a sugar syrup with, say, 1 parts corn syrup to 2 parts granulated sugar differ from a sugar syrup with 2 parts corn syrup to 1 part granulated sugar?

So, anyway, for this nougat I was working on, I increased the ratio of sugar to glucose in my recipe until they were almost equal, fired up my stove and mixer once again… And it all incorporated beautifully.

And now I’ll be back at it again, to refine taste and texture…

Edit: McGee says that glucose caramelizes at 300F. I think that explains at least a bit.

Surfas the Great

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I feel so relieved. I finally found a store that stocks the kinds of ingredients and tools that I need. I can spend less time scouring the internet, lamenting shipping & handling fees, and worrying about how long my supplies will last until I need to start the cycle over again.

Surfas bills itself as a chef’s paradise that’s been around since 1937, but I just read about it this week. And I went today to found myself in a store that’s like a JB Prince, Dean & Deluca, and Smart & Final all rolled into one, with even more to offer. And even better, the prices are amazingly reasonable, bordering on unbelievably inexpensive for some things. This is a place where you can buy D’Artagnan frozen meats, bulk pasta, Boiron fruit purees, beans, glucose, Jacques Torres chocolate bars, a Blodgett oven, Robot Coupes, pheasant breasts, Callebaut and Valrhona chocolates by the block, marble pastry boards, manufacturing cream, agar agar powder, multiple brands of cocoa nibs, Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, Horlicks malt powder, Cambro containers, spices, chocolate molds, and so much more. There’s even a cafe there. They also take online orders. They don’t have fresh produce, but if they did, I’d probably never leave the place.

Aside from Whole Foods, Gelson’s, and Bristol Farms, which are so expensive and relatively limited, I’ve had a hard time finding specialty ingredients in LA. I wish I’d known about Surfas sooner, so I just want to pass on the word for others…

Surfas Restaurant Supply and Gourmet Food
8777 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
www.surfasonline.com

The Banana Bar

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Banana Bar: Banana Rum Ganache, Walnut Shortbread Cookie.

This bar was inspired by chocolate chunk banana bread. The chocolate chunks have been incorporated into a banana ganache, and the quickbread element has become shortbread with walnuts mixed in. And I added rum, because it’s good with banana.

Texturally, the light ganache, crunchy shortbread and walnuts, and snappy chocolate couverture are a delight. Plus, I think it’s fiendishly delicious.

It’s been amusing working on this bar for the past few days and watching the results of my candy bar survey. It turns out that, according to my responses so far, banana is not a highly anticipated flavor for a candy bar. Only 8.2% responded positively to it (I rejoiced after every rare vote). And the walnut, while popular enough, isn’t generally a nut that people get especially excited about, either.

Of course, I can’t always be ruled completely by the majority, and I do suspect that the banana has also acquired a bad reputation in confections. Succinctly put, banana candies often taste gross — artificial and too sweet.

That’s why I took my cue from banana bread and muffins, the best of which get their cue from fresh bananas… and I also suspect, is enjoyed by more than 8.2% of the population. Ganache made with pureed bananas is heavenly. Taste-wise, it’s pure, and texture-wise, it’s naturally light and moist. I also used a little vanilla bean to round out the flavor.

I often avoid banana bread with walnuts — or pick them out — but I’m staunchly for the walnuts in this bar. I think that it’s the jarring texture and exploding flavors of the walnut in an otherwise moist, mellow banana bread that makes me dislike it there. But here, the walnut blends into the crunch of the shortbread, and imparts a flavor that goes melds with the creamy banana without dominating it.

Speaking of shortbread, it’s a very certain type that fits into candy bars. It has to be crunchy, or else it mixes with the ganache to feel curdled in your mouth. Such things as starch (powdered sugar is made of sugar and cornstarch) and eggs make cookies less crispy. So, for this shortbread, the ingredients are: flour, butter, granulated sugar, walnuts, and salt. You don’t have to toast the walnuts before adding to the dough, b/c they toast as the shortbread bakes. Right after it cooled, I coated it in a blend of dark chocolate and added cocoa butter to give it a thin seal to keep out moisture from the ganache.

So, here it is, the Banana bar… which I hope overcomes its odds to be liked by more than 8.2% of the population. Once again, Chad gave voice to my wishes: “I don’t like banana flavored things, but I like this!” I was lucky to get any pictures at all of this bar… what with his hovering and incessent inquiries into their futures. 🙂

This is a work in progress, though. Changes for the future:

  • Make the ganache firmer/more dense. Either use more chocolate and/or add invert sugar (this version had no added sugar, only the sugar from the chocolate and fruit sweetened it). I want to see how it affects the overall texture of the bar. Also, it would increase the shelf life. You can see air bubbles in the ganache above, and I’d rather not have that. I think that the ganache would be fine as is for two weeks, but I’ll be monitoring the remaining bars over time to see how they do.
  • Possibly add coconut to the shortbread. The flavor goes really well with rum and banana. I actually added coconut to a couple bars to see how it would be. I’d made a coconut mixture similar to that found in a Mounds or Almond Joy, but found it too sweet and boring to be a main feature in one of my candy bars (I’ve concluded that the world doesn’t need another coconut in sugar syrup-style bar; and using so much sugar to make it made me feel uneasy). Anyway, I spread some btw the ganache and the cookie in a few of them. It tasted really nice, and added an interesting additional texture, even if it was on the wet side. As long as too much coconut isn’t added, it would blend in nicely, rather than dominate. I’d rather have it in the shortbread or sprinkled on top as decoration rather than included as part of a sugar syrup element.
  • To rum or not to rum? On the one hand, rum ties together the flavors of banana and coconut especially well… and it is a natural preservative in chocolates. On the other hand, I’m just not sure about giving people alcohol when they want a banana bar. Alchohol is a very common ingredient in chocolates, but I want to be judicious in the use of it. I’m going to make sure that I have an alternate version without rum that makes up for the loss of liquid in the ratios.
  • Need to make a pattern on top that matches with the ingredients in an interesting way.

I Went Out for a Candy Bar… And Came Back with 14

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007
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I’ve done candy bar tastings before in the past year, but there’s always more to learn about taste, texture, and production processes… and the selection at Cost Plus is quite nice.

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Thanks to Catherine, I discovered Munchies, which is sort of like a Twix hiding out in a Rolo. The packaging also has cute, pithy declarations, like the one above, and I like that it’s square. They look and feel nice that way.

From a production standpoint, it’s pretty involved. It’s one of the few molded mass-market chocolates — especially bold b/c sharp edges and fine patterns are more prone to cause air bubbles in the chocolate. So, they probably make it by: baking pellets of cookie and coating them with a certain protective layer to prevent moisture from softening the cookie (you can see that white sort of substance around the cookie; Twix does the same with a darker substance; I’ll have to do the same for my cookie bars, like the Malt bar, by hand), lining their molds with chocolate, making and injecting enough caramel to leave room for the displacement caused by the cookie, pushing the cookie down into the caramel, and then backing it with more chocolate. Many cookies protruded out through the back a little, but I guess it’s okay as long as it doesn’t prevent other squares from stacking next to it in the package. And they have to make a lot of these to fill a packet, and packaging them is a little more work than packing a single bar.

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Drifter was also a new one to me, and I admire its eerily edgy name. It’s also similar to a Twix, but it has wafers as its cookie and is enrobed in caramel and then chocolate.One of the things that I want to do with my bars is give them each a unique and appropriate look. It’s a slightly challenging, because the easiest way to make a candy bar is as a boring rectangular shape with a flat chocolate coating.

So, I was surprised and impressed by the subtle charms of the Bounty Bar.

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First off, I like the packaging, especially in contrast to the garish, abstract packaging of many other bars. It has vibrant but soothing colors held within a tropical theme; a fitting font; realistic depictions of palm trees and coconuts; and the mottled edges that further suggest water… and adventure. The name even has a double meaning to me; the bounty of the coconuts inside, but it also evokes Mutiny on the Bounty. Evocations of plenitude and history… not bad for a candy bar.

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And even the bar itself fits within the color scheme. And those “2’s” hint at the arrangement of two bars inside.

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Even the bottom has attention to detail. After the bar is enrobed under a curtain of chocolate, it slides onto a belt that has this pattern embossed on it. La Maison du Chocolat also does this for their enrobed pieces.

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And to finish it off, my favorite, the simple marks on top that manage to look like waves crashing on a chocolatey surf. I also like the rounded edges of the bars.

I found Bounty to be delicious… much to my surprise. Frankly, I tend to like the idea of existing candy bars more than their reailty of monolithically sweet and boring tastes. This one tasted, dare I say it, fresh. And I wasn’t just seduced by the packaging.

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I was amused by the Lion bar’s packaging, with this message on the front and back. Glad they feel like they figured it out, but this one tasted a lot less like peanut than I recalled.

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I was able to perform a telling dissection of it.

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The Double Decker had a groovy top, even if the nougat cracked through a bit.

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The bottom was rather less successful. Btw, I was surprised by a striking coconuty/fruity flavor in the nougat.

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.

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I liked these Yoghurt Gums. Chewy and moist, and decent flavor.

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And a lemon sherbet, stuffed with its sour acid.

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And the poor Abba Zabba stands alone… the only one I immediately spit out (…and swore at). Hard taffy and really sweet peanut butter. Gives me shivers.

Edit: To clear my conscience, I add the Curly Wurly.

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I may as well mention that I measured every bar, too. This was was the longest, at 7-1/2 inches. It was also the chewiest.

My Candy Bar Business

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
So, I’m going for it. Or at least, testing the waters. I’m taking some time to see if I can develop a candy bar business. Nailing down recipes, working out production processes, and navigating the logistical, financial and legal matters.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone gave me a solid foundation in pastries and confections, and I’ve been working professionally and independently on different kinds of desserts since graduation. And nothing has captivated me more than the potential of candy bars. And not just any candy bars… Candy bars that are made with fresh, quality ingredients: no high-fructose corn syrup, no synthetic flavors, no artificial sweeteners, and no food coloring. And while I love things like simple caramel, peanuts, and nougat, there’s so much more that can be done!

My bars will taste like the fresh ingredients that they’re made of, not like sugar or chemicals. I wouldn’t put anything in my bars that I wouldn’t eat. I compulsively read ingredient lists on food packages now, and I just can’t bring myself to eat, much less buy, so many food products that are out there. When an ingredient list for something as simple as a cookie is as big as my palm and contains oils instead of butter, I just can’t do it… no matter how hungry I am. Of course, I know why they do it — to preserve the food and to reduce costs.

I’m aiming for a shelf-life of about two weeks, like most artisan chocolatiers, and to give you the opportunity to eat a dessert that makes you feel good and adds fun to your day. I don’t see many other people doing what I want to do, so I figure that I may as do it myself.

So, what bars am I going to offer? The Caramel Bar. The Malted Bar. The S’More Bar. The Coconut Bar. They’re all in, but are being minorly or majorly tweaked. I have six other main contenders, and loads of back-up ideas. You’ll be hearing lots about them.

I’ll be blogging as much as I can about the process. I’m a big believer in blogs — I’ve learned so much about food from people who are generous enough to share their experiences and experiments that I feel a need to contribute back to that. I’m taking a close look at a ton of recipes and techniques, and experimenting a lot. Although this is a relatively focused project, I’m working with just about every ingredient in the pastry arsenal, and learning more about them with every thing that I make. And I want to post about that so that others can learn, too.

Plus, there’s the feedback bonus of blogs — please let me know what you think every step of the way!